Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Mares in the Night Author's Notes: "Massive Blood Loss"

Massive Blood Loss

            It's a strange and morbid thing to say, but suicide has followed me around for much of my life. Which is not to say that I've ever had suicidal thoughts--as low as I've felt at times, the thought has never once entered my own head, thankfully. But several of my friends and family suffer from mental illness, and have been plagued by such thoughts at one time or another. A few have even made the attempt. In 2011, one succeeded.

             This isn't the only to story to deal with the theme, but it is the only one to deal with it head on, which is why it comes at the very end. My handling of the topic here could be read as disrespectful in some way, but that wasn't the intention. Suicide prevention is a very important topic to me, but I didn't want this to be a simple morality play. I wanted to deal with it through the lens of genre, which so often allows me to be more honest about things that happen in the real world, by mere virtue of its unreal nature. Somehow, it frees me up to write more truthfully than if I were to do straight-up autobiography. The fantasy world/hallucination that the main character encounters upon slashing his wrists draws on many elements: classic Moorcock, medieval psychology, the Four Humors, etc., and the more experimental nature of the story allowed me to play around a little bit with style (side note: while it's fun writing in first-person present-tense, it can get tricky if you're not careful. I thought it fit with the immediacy I was trying to achieve in this story, but who knows).

            Of course, all of that is secondary to the entire reason I sat down to write this one in the first place. I suppose it's only human nature to wonder, "What if?", but I could never shake the idea of getting the chance to talk to my friend the moment before he took his own life. I don't know what I would say. It's not like my life is perfect and I have all the answers. But what I eventually arrived at was the best I could come up with, the very last line of this story and the entire collection, and if I could, I'd go back and tell my friend the same:

            "This is not the end."

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Mares in the Night Author's Notes: "Dark Side of the Heart"

Dark Side of the Heart

            This one didn't come easily, but the idea was yet another that took hold and downright refused to be ignored. It was a rather simple one, at that: basically, take ERB's classic John Carter of Mars and treat him as Kurtz from Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now, with a former comrade sent across the stars to properly... deal with him. The actual execution of bringing it to life took a bit more legwork, spanning roughly four years to pound out this single 12,000 story. But the initial idea was so compelling, I wanted to take my time and get it right. 

            Aside from the two most obvious influences, I was also greatly inspired by Norman Spinrad's excellent The Iron Dream, which tells of an alternate history in which Adolf Hitler immigrates to the US after WWI and becomes a pulp science fiction author. Spinrad wrote the novel to illustrate the underlying fascist tendencies present in so many "Boy's Adventure" stories, and that was something I was itching to explore, but reconfigure to fit through the framework of post-9/11/War on Terror anxieties. The title also lent itself to comparisons with the seminal Pink Floyd album, and considering Dark Side of the Moon dealt heavily with coping with a friend's mental illness, it wound up fitting rather nicely with the story's themes. I tried reading it while putting the album on simultaneously, hoping for a little Dark Side of the Rainbow action... I'll leave it up to the reader to decide whether or not that leads to any interesting results.

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Mares in the Night Author's Notes: "Old Time Radio"

Old-Time Radio

            As you’ve likely noticed by now, I have a deep, abiding love for the old pulp entertainments of the early twentieth century. I don’t know why that is, exactly--I suppose it has something to do with the entertainment of that time containing the roots of what would morph into our modern-day genre fiction. Regardless, once I got the idea of a haunted radio show, it allowed me to scratch a number of different itches.

             The first and foremost was creating my own pulpy, proto-superhero in The Remnant. It’s funny: I suppose all writers get bit by the bug at an early age, when escapism hits us the hardest and we’re especially taken with flights of fancy. But that’s not the reason I’m compelled to write as an adult. Nowadays, it’s because I’ve got something to say, and I need to get it out whenever and however I can. Art is the sharing of a feeling, after all, and I’ve got plenty of those to go around. But still there’s a love for all those silly genres I was so enamored with as a kid, and a desire to play around in those sandboxes, as well. And that’s really what my work boils down to (at least, at this point in my life): eliminating the line between the literary, “This means something more” world and the genre stuff that exists only for its thrills, chills and spills. Blending the pulp with the personal, if you will. Don’t know how often I’m successful in that aim, but it’s always the aim whenever I sit down to start a new project.

            Which brings us to the story itself, and why I was compelled to combine weird superheroes and eyeball-creature zombies with the story of a man so wrapped up in his own grief, he winds up losing everything as a result. I suppose the overriding theme of “Old-Time Radio” is the importance of dealing with grief properly, and making sure it doesn’t swallow your life whole. Time heals all wounds, they say, and you certainly need it to put some distance between you and whatever ailments you’ve already been through or have yet to experience. But you also have to be careful, because time isn’t going to hold its breath for you. Time doesn’t give a rat’s ass whether you’re happy or sad. That son of a bitch races ever towards the finish-line, uncaring and indifferent as to whatever your plight may be. And it’s something that we only have so much of, when you get right down to it.

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Mares in the Night Author's Notes: "Sniper at the Gates of Hell"

Sniper at the Gates of Hell

            Sometimes all you need to make a short story is a title. Often as a "writing exercise" (read: procrastination), I'll sit down and start listing what I think would be cool titles for stories. "Sniper at the Gates of Hell" popped up during one such session, and all of a sudden I had an image of a lone sentry posted at the gates of Perdition, charged with picking off the poor souls who thought they had a chance of escaping the fiery pit. It was a striking image, one which led itself rather naturally to the story I wound up writing. Namely: What happens when the sniper posted at the gates of Hell finds the Devil himself next in his cross-hairs?

            The big D has already appeared in an earlier story in the collection, but that was a slightly more grounded portrayal. For this one, I wanted something a little more rock 'n' roll: full-on, Lord of Darkness-styled horns, massive cloven hooves, a pointy tail... the works. The whole story falls in line with such over-the-top visuals and ideas, with Hell and it's denizens consisting of some real Heavy Metal, horror-movie imagery from beginning to end. The ending leaves some tantalizing possibilities for the future, so I wouldn't be too surprised if we don't see any further adventures for Hell's Sniper... but you never know. 

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Mares in the Night Author's Notes: "The Man from A.B.Y.S.S."

The Man from A.B.Y.S.S.

             First, the Hollywood, high-concept pitch: “It’s James Bond by way of H.P. Lovecraft!”

            Okay, so now that’s out of the way, we can talk about the real influences for this initial tale featuring the introduction of supernatural superspy Aleister Max. Obviously, Jim Steranko’s Nick Fury was always on my mind, but what I took the most inspiration from was Robert E. Howard’s “Worms of the Earth”--possibly the best pastiche of his friend Lovecraft’s work that Howard ever wrote, which also featured its main character gaining victory over his enemies at a price far too high. Aside from that, there’s a smorgasbord of other influences: Warren Ellis comics, classic John Carpenter, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, etc.

            When I originally wrote this story, I had grand designs for an entire trilogy of Aleister Max novels, that would start out in the hip spy-fi mold of Steranko, and then take a turn for the trippy and enter a more cosmic, Jim Starlin-esque territory. All these years later, and I haven't written another word for Agent Max outside of this story. It's something I would still like to get around to eventually, but there's so much more I have to write in the meantime...

            Maybe some day.

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Mares in the Night Author's Notes: "A Meat Most Foul"

A Meat Most Foul

            This one came about through a call for stories that the publisher deemed “dinopunk”--basically a dinosaur story peppered with the trappings of other genre fare. Being lazy and unoriginal, I decided that “Zombie Dinosaurs” was enough to do the trick, but I wasn’t really interested in the zombie aspect so much as I was in fleshing out the dinos and their world. Working out the religious aspects of Cray-gore and his Tyrannosaur tribe was the stuff that really got my engines going, so much so that I wouldn’t be surprised if we get more of the big guy himself on down the line.

            And yes, for those keeping score at home: after all that rigmarole about being sick to death of zombies before, this is the second tale to feature the undead in the collection, and also not the last. It’s not that I hate zombies, but rather the lazy way pop culture keeps shoving them down our throats, as if their mere presence is enough to fill the cheap seats. But the truth is that zombies by themselves are rather boring--it’s what you do with them that make the stories they appear in interesting.

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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Mares in the Night Author's Notes: "So Long, the Dark"

So Long, the Dark

           Dreams can sometimes provide excellent fodder for stories, as the one that led me to writing this tale will attest. In my original dream, I found myself escaping imprisonment from an old, abandoned church, only to be met with a horrid, albino cat/vampire monstrosity right as I thought I had just gotten away. The story came pretty naturally after that, and also became an excellent vehicle to tackle bloodsuckers in an interesting way without actually using the V-word.

            Most of my life I felt like I’ve been awaiting some great and anxiety-ridden event or another, so I poured all of that into the character of Mason and his situation--so much so that I find the story oddly personal in ways that still surprise me each time I revisit it. My original dream had me unable to escape from the vampire cat-man, and so too was the story to originally to end that way. Personal reasons led me to eventually decide to change that into something that maybe wasn’t a happy ending, but certainly allowed for more possibilities than the singular and final fate of being unable to escape a not-ideal situation.

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